Friday, June 23, 2006

Will the Senate let estate tax rates fall? Timber-r-r!

The House of Representatives not only passed the Permanent Estate Tax Relief Act of 2006, it also indexed the tax threshholds ($5 million for the 15%-20% rate, $25 million for the double rate) for inflation.

Will the Relief Act pass the Senate next week? It should. Congress is considering a sensible bill. (When did you last read "sensible" and "Congress" in the same sentence?) It removes the estate-tax yoke from the merely well-to-do, preserves the convenience of stepped-up basis for inherited assets, collects the equivalent of tax on unrealized capital gains (and more) from the semi-rich, and soaks the really rich at a rate high enough to encourage philanthropy as an alternative to tax payments.

My enthusiasm is not universally shared. The Washington Post rants editorially about a terrible stench:

"Like the ghoul in the horror movie that refuses to die, estate tax repeal has returned from the grave to stalk the halls of Congress."

Still, joke writers for Leno and Letterman have got to love this legislation.

The name "Permanent Estate Tax Relief Act" is an inspired comic touch. Everybody knows that "permanent," in Congress-speak, means "We won't start messing with this legislation for at least twelve months."

And the addition of a capital-gains tax cut for the timber industry, to whom certain Democratic Senators happen to be beholden, is a real thigh-slapper.

Q. What is it called when lobbiyists grant expensive favors to members of Congress in order to get certain legislation passed?

A. Criminal.

Q. What is it called when Republican members of Congress grant expensive favors to Democratic members of Congress in order to get certain legislation passed?

A. Politics as usual.

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